As Kristin Broulliard and Toei-N arrive at the waiting area for the intensive care regen unit on floor 212, it looks as though they might be a bit late. It looks like a cast of characters has already assembled. Col. Lee Chen is snapping orders at a couple of his elite enforcement droids, and there are a couple of folks in the background to whom we have not yet been introduced. Soon.
The question arises about body armor. As we noticed early in chapter one, Col. Chen wears his armor pretty much wherever he goes, but his reasons are different from the droids. Being a droid in DownTown can be a life threatening proposition. True, the droids need to look intimidating, but their armor is much needed protection. Killing or disabling synthetic, (aka droid) is not a capital offense, (which many believe to be discriminatory), but it carries stiff penalties and a mandatory, non-parolable prison term or erasure. As with any crime, however, criminals rarely plan on getting caught. Drive by shootings and snipers are fairly common, so the armor comes in handy and protects the most critical operational functions of the droids, which are contained in the chest and head. In DownTown, whether you are human or synthetic police, there are sections where armor is strongly advised. Col. Chen has no fear when it comes to busting heads and kicking butt in DownTown. His elite droids have a nasty reputation and their sometimes brutal tactics, are rarely questioned by the New Asian government. As for why the colonel is wearing armor in TopCity, the answer is simple, he’s a badass.
For the record, when Col. Chen is in TopCity, he wears his white dress armor, when he’s in DownTown, it’s the more intimidating black version.
… Kristin and Toei received the report that another human was assaulted in DownTown. There have been a series of attacks where humans, primarily young males have been assaulted, “headjacked” and then killed, or dead on arrival; eleven in the last six months. None of these assaults were detected by the ultra-sophisticated surveillance “mesh” that supposedly protects Hong Kong 2 citizens.
Discovering that the latest victim was not only the renowned scientist and prodigy, Dr. Sean Colbert, but that he was still alive and the step-son of the governor of Hong Kong province. This is big news and has obviously aroused the interest of Lee Chen, Colonel of Special Forces, Elite Corps Enforcement Unit. Lee’s elite corps of droids handle the heavy crimes. They are powerful, connected and operate with minimal government oversight. He also gets the job done. The recent spate of assaults are a thorn in his side and now that it has touched the family of the governor of Hong Kong, Lee is probably loosing patience.
Hence, Kristin and Toei make haste to the Prefectural Medical Center. They’re going to be interested in Sean’s condition. Aside from any other injuries, if he was “headjacked” like the other victims, he could be in a vegetative state, and mentally damaged beyond repair. Not all headjacking results in this but often, a random street “jacking” is not done under ideal conditions and the equipment could be cheap or even home made.
Pages 47 and 48
The way I designed this page, there is really no way to deliver it but as a two page spread. Not a lot of dialog here, but I’m hoping to set the mood of this eerie hospital setting. I imagined the opening scene at the medical center to be this massive white expanse, pristine and almost silent. The occasional synthetic voice calmly directs visitors throughout the space. Maybe there is some creepy, almost imperceptible 22nd century musak playing hauntingly from somewhere. On pages 47 and 48 we hear the hushed chime of the elevator and a disembodied, but remarkably soothing female voice introduces Kristin and Toei, far off in the distance, to the intensive care regen unit. As the panels continue we hear the echo of footsteps as our team approaches the waiting area.
A few notes on the medicine of 2159
Medicine has eliminated nearly all forms of disease. Genetics has enabled zero-defect births and isolated the genes that cause aging. The aging gene can be switched on and off (usually in a human’s 2nd decade), through a simple medical procedure.
The wealthy can afford to have themselves replicated and stored as back up in the event of accident or overall wear and tear, Their consciousness can then uploaded into the replicated self. Though some contend that the soul is left behind in this process, many aspire to have this option.
Most organs can be grown in the laboratory for emergency replacement. Some humans, known as “agers” have decided not to have their aging genes modified, relying instead on technology and “original” genetics. Their life expectancy is usually only 150 years even after replacements.
If you were wondering whether Sean Colbert was dead or alive, the technical answer is, alive. The story has not yet revealed what state the young prodigy is in, coma or conscious, vegetative state, or permanently damaged. All in due time. There was lots of activity this week beyond teaching Design Foundations and feverishly writing lectures. I spoke to a small group of design grad students this week about my research, the idea of design fiction and how, it can participate in future thinking and foresight. I was gratified to see the excitement level and how these topics, specifically from The Lightstream Chronicles online, digital graphic novel and webcomic helped to raise these issues. The discussion included such provocative topics as the prospect of immortality, digital implants, surveillance and security, privacy, mental telepathy, the perfect human body, and technological Darwinism to name a few. Unfortunately the discussion ended just as we got to the real meat of the design fiction future and that is what our role will be in it, not only as designers, but as human beings.
The question came up as to why everyone in the story is so perfect, muscled, slender and good looking. I covered this in a previous blog, but it bears some additional discussion. As I mentioned back then,
“…In the story narrative, through genetic engineering, and continuous monitoring and augmentation of body chemistry, the society of 2159 has enabled the sculpting of any body shape, musculature, and proportion. Hence, the story contains a visual proliferation of ideal bodies as a direct result of technological advancements in medicine and body design. The plot then, serves to drive body exaggerations in this context and provides the opportunity to examine the perfect body phenomenon in the cultural context of the narrative.”
But the short answer would be, “Because they can.”
This is an opportunity to put ourselves into the shoes of our fictional characters. Take a couple of newlyweds who are trying for their first child. If the technology existed for a couple of non-invasive genetic alterations to prevent your child from ever having a “weight problem”, would you sign up? Pretty harmless isn’t it? And of course, every other couple is doing it so if you opt out, your child could be a pretty significant stand out from the status quo. As you think this over, you ask yourself, “Do I really want to saddle my child with a weight problem?” So you give pause, however brief, and then opt for the miracle of technology.
The next question would probably not even raise and eyebrow. Now that everybody is walking around and looking pretty darn good, it goes without saying that monitoring your body chemistry, and the weight gaining hormones would only make sense. Since a seamless implant or patch will do this for you, why not?
This is how technology subtly changes culture,society and behavior. As society makes these seemingly harmless adaptations eventually we have The Lightstream Chronicles. Is that bad?
That is the whole idea behind my research into design fiction. These scenarios can bring cultural legibility to representations of the future and thereby provoke discussion and debate, challenge conventional thinking, and encourage individual foresight and participation into the implications of today’s decision-making; perhaps a glimpse into, and examination of what gets made and how it will affect culture and humanity, rather than to simply wait and see.
There are currently 6 chapters in The Lightstream Chronicles, and I’ve been working away on the conclusion of chapter 2, struggling with rendering physically correct glass, and the resulting expense that it causes in render time and set up. Of course, most people probably don’t study the way real glass looks, unless you’re a CG artist, so most people wouldn’t notice if it was dead-on or just close. And I’m not sure it matters. Part of what makes up my day.
When chapter 2 concludes we will be at page 84 and my renderings are getting close to this landmark. That leaves about 130 to 140 pages until completion. Sound daunting doesn’t it. Eh! No stopping now, in fact, I’ve just envisioned a new scene to insert into chapter 4, probably 4 to 6 pages.
Let’s get some dialog going. Comment damn it. I say that in the nicest possible way. 🙂
As we saw in a previous post, the mesh is a pretty reliable means of monitoring the “public safety”. With a decent, albeit monochrome, three dimensional image, government security sentinels can spot suspicious behavior, illegal speech, and other possible crimes even when you are alone in a closed room. The ubiquitous use of active surface technology (AST) in combination with human sensory implants, (that are as common as a flu shot in the 22nd century) provides a sharp, clear picture of what’s going on anywhere in Hong Kong 2. The prevalence of AST nodes and their long-range signal is so effective that large portions of the network could be disabled, such as a city block, and the network would “self-heal”. Some criminals, however, have created sophisticated “blocking” devices that have successfully cloaked transmissions.
Decades of visual data that have been correlated with real emergencies have contributed to an almost fool-proof catalog of what constitutes “suspicious” activity. When behavioral anomalies are cross-referenced with immediately accessible bio-data from humans within proximity of suspicion, the system can confirm through heart-rate, blood pressure, adrenaline output, and other secretions whether something illegal is going on. Depending on the severity of the infraction, the observed behavior may trigger something as minor as a telepathic alert to the offending party, to an all out assault by police security. The law of the land is contained in the multi-volume, Hong Kong Protocols where most of what is considered to be illegal is that which infringes on the rights of another. Therefore, almost anything that is individual, or consensual is within the law. The mesh surveillance network is a successful deterrent to most human crimes, however suspicious behavior is not as easily detected in synthetics, since they are absent the bio-data, and can be laced with complex algorithms that belie suspicious activity. Most synthetic humanoids leave the factory with highly secure encryptions that prevent anyone but the most sophisticated techo-criminals, from tampering with synthetic behaviors. As law, synthetics are required to follow the synthetic code which was derived from the robot code, a 20th century imagining of author Isaac Asimov. The ancient robot code stated that:
A robot may not injure a human or, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm
A robot must obey human orders, unless they conflict with first law
A robot must protect itself if this does not conflict with other laws
The synthetic code is much longer and more complex than its 20th century predecessor but still leans heavily on the idea that synthetics cannot injure or allow a human to come to harm. Hacking into a 22nd century synthetic, drone, droid, or robot to enable it to commit a crime or harm another human is called twisting. It is considered a capital crime. Nevertheless, twisted synths are responsible for, or complicit in nearly 70% of the crimes in Hong Kong 2.
Most of the public has grown accustomed to the idea that every waking and sleeping moment of their lives, including their thoughts can be, and is monitored. According to recent polls, the public takes comfort in government assurance that no humans are interpreting their activity, and hence, not making any judgements on their behavior no matter how bizarre.
The charming conversation between Kristin Broulliard and Toei-N is just one of the reasons I really like this page. The two of them framed from the back-view with the scope of the big board is another cool visual that I ended up being pleased with. Aside from all this, however there is an interesting design fiction that emerges. As I have written about extensively, the surveillance state technology, the floating balcony, and the natural conversation with a synthetic human being all qualify as diegetic prototypes. The term diegetic prototypes (Kirby 2010) refers to the diegesis, the fictional world within which, “..technologies exist as ‘real’ objects… that function properly and which people actually use.” This project, quite obviously stops short of material fabrication,and leans heavily on the realism that can be conveyed through CG. In their digital forms, artifacts have dimension and virtual physicality. There is a deliberate goal of examining how they can go unnoticed. As with may present-day artifacts like smart phones and laptops, these blend into the scheme of everyday. They are ubiquitous in the culture, yet they serve to influence social interaction and individual behavior. Therein lies the design fiction.
I created Toei to be an immensely likable “person,” that anyone might enjoy conversing with, but it nevertheless begs the question that we would not be having this conversation with a human being. Does that bother us? Should it?
And these questions also emerge:
Will we forever into the future simply acquiesce to the latest technology, even if it erases any sense of privacy, or human intimacy?
Have we already begun this process through our social networking, texting, and second lives?
In addition to creating an interesting story, it is my goal to make us think as well. Maybe this will get it started.
Kirby, David. “The Future Is Now.” Social Studies of Science 40.1 (2010): 41-70. Sage Journals. Web. 20 May 2012. <http://sss.sagepub.com/content/40/1/41.abstract>.
This week, two of the stars of our web comic, graphic novel continue chatting it up in the public security command center at Police HQ. I will let the conversation speak for itself and focus today’s comments on the challenge of rendering these control room scenes.
As I have stated before, everything is “shot” on location. That means that Kristin and Toei are on in virtual space, in a control room location, atop the same police headquarters featured on page 41 with a view of the built city of Hong Kong 2 that has been featured on pages previously. (The latest being chapter 2 prologue pages ix2-x2). Hence, when the camera is framing our cast the view is exactly what is “outside” the windows, or with them “in the room”. One would logically think, then, after all this “building” that it would be a simple matter of lighting and “shooting”. Alas, it’s not so simple. And the problem is focus. Using a real camera, in a situation like this would most likely yield a background out of focus so that we could capture crisp focus on our characters. Unfortunately, in Autodesk Maya, incorporating the rendering algorithms to calculate depth-of-field into all of these renderings would have increased rendering time astronomically, and probably not yielded a realistic look when it was all finished — if it ever finished.
I wanted the reflections in the glass to be fairly crisp, but the buildings that were far off in the distance to be more out-of-focus. All this required separate renderings. One for our subjects, another for the glass, and a third for the cityscape. Then the appropriate amount of blur was applied to each layer in Photoshop and composited into one single image with a believable depth-of-field. All part of the process of making The Lightstream Chronicles as engaging and visually interesting as possible.
We begin a completely new scene and location this week as we shift up to TopCity.
This week I am moving back to single pages. In he past month, between chapter 1 and the official start of chapter 2, I posted 6 double page spreads with 17 renders. But, alas, I can’t keep that up forever. In today’s post, page 41, we move from the depths of DownTown to one of the highest spots in TopCity, namely Police Headquarters. The scene opens up with a view from the cockpit of a police shuttle on the approach path to the landing deck atop the police headquarters building. The rain has subsided but the remnants of clouds and mist still hover over the city.
Inside, we begin a conversation, though the participants are not yet identified.
The presence of palm trees may mislead us to think that we are really not that high up in TopCity, but as you can see from the latest update to the Hong Kong 2 cityscape on chapter 2 prologue page pix2-x2, many of the rooftops are populated with small palm forests — some of the last places in the city where there is greenery.
There have also been some tweaks to the website to lessen the clutter on the pages. Feel free to comment.
I have been serving up some seriously detailed double-pages culminating in this final 2-page introduction to chapter 2. Hopefully this season opener, pages 39-40 has been much anticipated and does not disappoint. Of course, at the end of chapter 1 Sean Colbert, frantically racing to the nearest shuttle to TopCity before curfew, was snatched—mid-stride— and hauled into a dark corner of DownTown. Confronted by an unknown assailant(s), Sean refused to cooperate. And then the violence started. This week we see that Sean was severely beaten and left in a puddle of rain and his own blood. Last week, in the final prologue pages to chapter 2, his body was discovered by a roving emergency drone that was patrolling the area. What exactly happened to Sean is forthcoming as chapter 2 unfolds.
Every page of The Lightstream Chronicles includes rather extreme details. The physical page size of a double-page spread is more than 80 inches across. As I encourage readers to zoom in and discover some of the fine points that I have taken such pains to weave in to the artwork, you can see Sean’s reflection in the lens of the emergency drone as well as the fine print of what’s going on in the “mind” of the drone. Since an ambulance was summoned immediately upon discovery of the body. the next thing that will happen is the emergency drone will try to determine whether the victim is dead or alive. The human chipset is located on the back of the neck. The drone will project optical beam and determine if there are vital signs being transmitted anywhere in the body. (You might remember another drone scanning Sean from page 26 in chapter 1).
This sets up one of the key mysteries of the story. Virtually every inch of DownTown and TopCity, including private living spaces, is visually accessible through the mesh. For your edification here is a definition of the mesh:
Mesh (The) – the massive proliferation of electronic image receivers, recorders, and active surface technology provides the ability to triangulate and decode a 3-dimensional image within virtually any modern environment. Using GPS coordinates any active technology produces a field which interprets the surrounding environment. Correlating data fields from multiple active technologies within contiguous environments creates a mesh, which generates a detailed 3-dimensional image of anything or anyone. There is no need for cameras or optical recording devices. The encryptions and addressing of millions of devices requires highly sophisticated decoding technology and is authorized for government use only. Because the resulting visual information has no regard for privacy, it is highly controversial. The government claims that mesh imagery of non-suspect activity is not collected. All mesh imagery, by law, is decoded and parsed using “impartial, non-judgmental”synthetic humans.
From an upcoming Glossary to The Lightstream Chronicles.
Before the Chapter 2 Prologue, we ended up with Sean being accosted in a DownTown alley (pages 37 – 38).
This week I offer up another gratuitous double-page spread. I consider these two pages to be the real prelude to the Season 2 opener since they literally feed into the Chapter 2 title page (39) and (40). In the shadows of the TopCity Spanner, a robotic emergency surveillance drone zips through the rain soaked underbelly of society; DownTown, Hong Kong 2. On any given night these drones may encounter the casualties of being left out after curfew. As discussed in a previous blog (p31):
The criminal element in Downtown is robust, but the after hours street criminals are in another league entirely. These consist of roving gangs of synths who were twisted by local gang lords to rape and/or torture their victims while recording everything from the victim’s perspective; a process called head-jacking. A small device is clamped to the back of the neck directly over the victim’s chipset and the memories of the incident—complete with all five senses—are recorded. The experience is then sold on the black market. Depending on the quality of the device and trauma the victim is subjected to, if the victim survives the crime, headjacking can result in partial or total memory erasure, and in some cases, death.
Headjacking is a capital offense.
The drone might also encounter other emergencies: a chem overdose victim, the remains from a gang hit squad or even someone who didn’t make it inside before curfew — and they’re still alive. If they’re uninjured the drone would call in a synth sentinel to escort the lost soul to a holding cell until morning. Surviving a curfew violation is only slightly better than being a victim. The penalty for being out after curfew, is a cur-too, a tattoo. Three curfew tattoos and you can be sent to one of the penal colonies for an indeterminate time.
For the injured, a quick chip scan will identify you as being from DownTown or TopCity, whether you have a criminal record or just ended up chem’d out. If you’re from DownTown you’ll most likely end up in a clinic, TopCity residents get treated above the spanner.
In The Lightstream Chronicles Season Opener (aka Chapter 2) next week, we get to see what the drone is looking at, though there are zoom opportunities in this weeks post to get a little more information. Is Sean dead or alive? And exactly how bad is it? This warning: there will be blood.
If you only take a quick glance, you may mistake this prologue to chapter 2 spread, pix2-px2, as a repeat of the splash page that preceded chapter 1. So, don’t do that. Take a closer look. The cityscape is busier, more congested and populated with several new buildings. It’s also a bit more noir. As we progress through this cyberpunk future, I’m feeling that it’s all a bit too bright and chipper so I think the city will continue to change as the book progresses. It’s also more than just mood. From the very beginning, Hong Kong was constructed using GPS data, satellite photography and Google® Maps. Since i’m trying to be as authentic to size and scale as possible, I wanted the view from the hospital, a key location in chapter 2, to be accurate. In other words, if we’re standing on top of the hospital and looking around, I want us to see the surrounding architecture as it actually exists in the story. But I didn’t really have a firm location for the hospital when the story began. Thus, when I placed the hospital, as a structure, where I wanted it in the cityscape, it became noticeably absent (to me) from the aerial view featured in chapter 1.
This kind of accuracy may not be necessary in the long run but when you look out a character’s office, or apartment I want the views to be true to their actual locations in the city.
As for the architecture, almost all of the high-rise structures in TopCity, the newest and most modern part of the city, had no precedent so their models had to be created from scratch. These were designed as taller versions of cutting edge 21st century buildings, with some inspiration from Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry. Some of these structures are 300 stories.
It should be noted that not all the buildings are 3D shells. Several, like the hospital, police headquarters, other places where characters work or live, were built to include detailed atriums, aircraft landing pads, restaurants, and bars, even though they may not actually have a part in the final story.
Other parts of the world were combinations of stock models, and customized 3D modifications. For scenes that take place in DownTown, a decaying version of the low-rise sprawl of 20th century Hong Kong, the distinctive look of Asian urban-architecture has a needed to be recreated. A few existing stock models were found that captured the basic essence of decaying Asian city dwellings.
The structure that spans the harbor is a bit of design fiction. The TopCity Spanner covers most of old Hong, and provides a clean break between TopCity and DownTown. The spanner is conceived to use high strength, lightweight, “programmable” materials that provide the ability to shift shape, organically to accommodate new growth. The Spanner became the new, affluent “street level,” towering 50 stories above the original streets of Hong Kong. The shadow of the spanner over old Hong Kong serves as a constant reminder to the inhabitants of DownTown of the gap between the wealthy and the poor.
There are a few more changes that I would like to make but you’ll have to wait until chapter 3 to see them.